Renewal Ten : Be Aware–Education At Work

I suppose this entire line of inquiry began at a meeting in which there were some tense moments. I have tried to avoid these things, but somehow, despite some successes, I’ve still managed to find myself embroiled.

Sometimes I find myself at odds with administration. This is not something that is particularly obvious, I do not raise hell, but that does not stop it from happening. I went from somewhat of a wonder boy to persona non-grata in one fell swoop. Though I was asked to consider taking on other assignments, I was also asked and opted to run for department chair. It was a newly formed, multi-disciplinary department, and the promise seemed great.

I was elected and we proceeded to undertake the organization of the department. Almost immediately there were control issues from both inside and outside of the department. Though the problem on the inside was isolated to one particular category, it was connected with the powers to be on the outside. The bottom line was that the unwritten job description for department chair was to do what one was told to do.

All right, so I’m naive. Hey, I haven’t had much time in an institution, even if I’ve had time working with them. In any case, the entire thing became ridiculous and I tendered my resignation after one year.

I met with the powers that be and explained my position–my resignation was best because I would be out of the way and would not be forced to raise any hell. My skills do not involve being a tethered goat.

Immediately afterwards, a problem arose and in the end the administrative faux pas was pointed in my direction. In a department meeting, I, now a regular faculty member, attempted to remain quiet, but could not when a visiting administrator claimed that an investigation of the matter was ludicrous because the decision was based on departmental information.

This was not, in fact, the case. It was so far from it as to be laughable.

I spoke up and the administrative dance began. I spoke some more, quietly pointing out the problems with the administrative rationale, and the dance continued.

Finally, in exasperation, the administrator threw up their hands and said they could not be expected to remember everything, but that the issue was still ridiculous.

A differently clothed, but animal-of-the-same-kind arose later. And then again later. After the second time, I met with an administrator, they did their dance, I watched, they danced, I asked them to be careful of my feet, they danced. The bottom line was they would look into it and get back to me, but they don’t know anything, and besides, I was just not aware of all the nuances.

Now, I’m not picking on administration, but this disavowing knowledge, but-faculty-are-not-aware of-the-nuances spiel is a common administrative theme. In any case, I never heard from anyone.

And then there was the latest meeting. Before that meeting, some information about a new program was delivered to the members of the Academic Senate who were supposed to be involved in the development of that program prior to its implementation. A resolution was passed and was to be sent to the Board of Trustees. An administrator was not happy. More of the same, and a showdown was scheduled.

Now I’m not happy about sniping at people from any direction, faculty to administrators, administrators to faculty, students to faculty, faculty to students, classified staff, etc., etc. So I’m not on the polarized bandwagon of the “us against them” mentality. Nonetheless, the issue at stake spawned a legitimate question and the committee deserved a response.

It is also a truism at this college, that many who complain do so in the background, and have little to say in a showdown. It is also true that many who complain tend to ask for and receive something to stop complaining.

So here we are in the meeting. The floor is turned over to the members with the statement that the administrator was here to answer questions. This was easy. The complaint was easy. The resolution was specific. The question clear.

And there the entire committee sat, silent.

Sometimes the sheer power of administration is good at quieting dissension. Sometimes administrators can flash a temper and show little respect or patience for questioning motives or authority. I mean, people just are not aware of all the nuances…

I don’t like these things. I know there is going to be trouble. I know, if I speak up, that I can be dealt with. Tenure doesn’t mean protection from onslaughts. But I speak up anyway, quietly, assuring the administrator that this is about procedures and not about personalities.

Like that helps.

Out comes the power personality and things got tense. Three others spoke up (out of 35?), taking up the banner. The administrative indignation grew. I spoke again and again and suggested that the administrative demeanor itself was not conducive to participation. If the administrator was allowed to speak vigorously about their position, then surely they understood our vigor.

The logic was kaleidoscopic, turn the administrative knob here and see all of the pretty patterns. I seriously doubt that one person in that room beyond the administrator believed the dance.

What will happen? Some bullets travel slowly and I’m guessing there’s at least one out there somewhere, guided to someone or something specific, such are egos and perceived slights. These are educated people you know, the product of a sacred institution dedicated to learning.

Perhaps I’m too optimistic about changing things and about the possibility of renewal. Maybe we just need some more signs: Dangerous Learning Curves Ahead: Be aware, education at work.

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